SATSUMA, Florida – The search for Haleigh Cummings turned more desperate Wednesday after officials said someone likely abducted the 5-year-old from her bedroom in rural Putnam County.
“There is no longer any reason to believe that the child simply wandered off outside,” said Maj. Gary Bowling of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.
Family members begged for the safe return of the girl they call Doodlebug on the second day of a massive search in this sparsely populated county about 80 miles north of Orlando.
“Just bring her back,” said Haleigh’s maternal grandmother, Marie Griffis. “There are plenty of places you can drop off a kid, no questions asked.”
Haleigh lives with her father, Ronald Cummings, 25, and his girlfriend in a double-wide in Satsuma, an isolated riverfront community northeast of Ocala National Forest.
The girlfriend, Misty Croslin, 17, put Haleigh to bed about 10pm Monday while Cummings was working at PDM Bridge.
Croslin woke up about 3.30am Tuesday, noticed Haleigh was missing and called 911 for help.
“I just woke up and my back door is open, and I can’t find my daughter,” Croslin told a 911 dispatcher. She said she had been sleeping and the door was not open when she went to bed.
A screen door on the side of the couple’s Satsuma home had been propped open with a cinder block. The main door was slightly ajar, but authorities found no obvious signs of forced entry.
Cummings just returned home while Croslin was talking to the dispatcher.
“I just got home from work, and my 5-year-old daughter is gone. I need somebody to be here now, I’m telling you,” he told the dispatcher. “If I find whoever has my daughter before you do, I’m killing them. I don’t care if I have to spend the rest of my life in prison.”
Officials issued a statewide alert for Haleigh on Tuesday, triggering a search that quickly drew as many as 130 officers from several law-enforcement agencies with bloodhounds and helicopters.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, FBI, and Volusia, Marion and Flagler sheriff’s offices are helping Putnam County deputies and investigators.
The search continued Wednesday and included divers exploring the nearby St. Johns River.
Bowling said 44 sex offenders live in a 5-mile radius of Cummings’ home, but most have been contacted by law enforcement since Haleigh disappeared. Many sought out authorities on their own.
“Right now, we don’t have a lot of clues indicating where she’s at,” Detective John Merchant said. “I’m always positive, though. We want to find her alive.”
No suspects have been named, and no one has been ruled out.
“All the world’s a suspect right now,” Bowling said.
Family members said Haleigh was unlikely to leave on her own.
“Haleigh is a very indoor-type child,” said Griffis, her grandmother. “If she goes outside, she wants you to be with her — she would never go outside by herself in the dark.”
Griffis said Haleigh is bright and loves drawing, makeup and playing with gadgets.
Her mother, Crystal Sheffield, 23, was at her home in Baker County near the Florida-Georgia state line at the time of her daughter’s disappearance. She was in Putnam County on Wednesday, talking with investigators and waiting for news on her daughter’s whereabouts.
She gets custody of Haleigh and her 3-year-old brother, Ronald Jr., every other weekend. This weekend the family was planning to celebrate Ronald’s fourth birthday.
Joshua Duckett, father of missing Lake County toddler Trenton Duckett, stepped in Wednesday as a family spokesman.
“I’ve been through it, and it definitely helps the family to have someone who can say, ‘Hey, I know what you’re going through,’ ” said Duckett, whose son was last seen Aug. 26, 2006.
Also Wednesday, bounty hunter Leonard Padilla, who inserted himself in the case of missing Orlando toddler Caylee Marie Anthony, joined the ranks heading for Putnam County. At a staging area near Cummings’ house, he said curiosity had drawn him to Haleigh’s search.
Meanwhile, a volunteer group from Houston that helped look for Caylee in Orlando last year said it is gearing up to help in the search for Haleigh.
Caylee’s remains were found in December, and her public memorial was Tuesday.
Tim Miller, founder of Texas EquuSearch, said his organization has been in contact with Putnam County officials. Some volunteers may drive and others may fly to Florida, he said.
“It’s pretty ironic. We have another child disappear seven hours before Caylee’s memorial,” he said.
Anyone with information about Haleigh’s whereabouts is asked to call the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office at 386-329-0808.
This recent photo released by the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office shows Haleigh Cummings, 5, of Satsuma, Fla. An Amber Alert was issued on Tuesday Feb. 10, 2009, after Cummings went missing from her home Tuesday night.